Four Poems by Emily Strauss

Happy Day at Exit 346

"Homeless Madonna" by Christopher Woods
“Homeless Madonna” by Christopher Woods

I know where I am— over three hundred miles
from the southern border down in the desert—
too hot, the glare hurt my eyes, I think I might
have skin cancer, once heat exhaustion
the ambulance guy asked me— “what are you
doing out here?”— how can I explain the years

but up here it’s cool at night, sometimes foggy
when I curl up in discarded blankets next to
the concrete buttresses, pretty safe usually,
no overhead arcs here. I know the time too—
metering lights, back-up, the drivers angry,
sleepy, resigned, radios blaring news, weather

I listen in, wrapped up tight where the sounds
echo, later a piece of stale bread, water hoarded
under a drain spout, very Early Christian,
an ascetic, and yes, I pray a little too, thanks
for a sunny morning, I’ll hang the blankets
on a bush to dry, fetch my hand-lettered sign—

(rewarded?). I don’t beg, you understand
stand mute, look thankful, push the WALK
button for the old lady with her heavy shopping
cart. Sure I’m happy today— no roof but fresh
air, weathered face, no Ikea build-it-yourself
bedroom set, I made my own kit, recycled

it works except in the rain, I even read the news-
paper when a piece blows out a car’s window,
found a great column the other day about living
a simple life, you know, without a swimming
pool maybe, and I knew exactly what they meant

surrounded by the highway dept.’s oleander and
daisy landscape blossoms, so bright in the hot
afternoon, I even picked up some roadside trash
to show my good citizenship and gratitude
to the taxpayers, buried the smashed ‘possum
with headstones and a nice, little twig cross.


The Bells Tolling

let us worship the coming hours—
here the patterns of waves on shore,
there the shapes of light and shade
beneath a cottonwood in the heat

with the cicadas’ fierce hum,
or snow in the desert for a moment
on thorns, an owl just overhead
waits for dusk and mice

whole days of rain, the air streams
down every soaked surface,
the dark sky low over the roof
the cat whines at the door

weeks of lightning-dry dusty
white heat coats every bush,
step out at night, at least the stars
are clean under the orange moon

waning, watch for pinpoints
of flame on the hills, ready to flee

seasons of madness tinged with
reports of terror and confusion,
let us follow the throngs inside
with the tolling bells of steeples

that signal our commonality— let us
remember our small place in the fog
that envelops us in the black night
of gnashing winds, like a stilled

coverlet over someone’s failed breath,
a hollow shell now, only the husk
of her dreams remain, we wait for
the signal bells tolling at dawn, dying


Cliffs of Moher

the earth breathes in and out
along this coast of vast cliffs
we see the fog falling and rising
and falling by the hour
the ocean quiet below
lost in the white depths
and we await the time it rises
again so we may glimpse
the emerald bluffs and clear
blue fringe at their ankles

then we feel the earth’s breaths
pass us daily, though we usually
ignore the clouds blowing over
the pastures where cows graze
unconcerned, the wind tugging
our coat collars and woolen
scarves on the bare highlands

the land breathing on us, the sky blowing
cows lowing, pelicans held off the highest point
and we fail to see with the lack of clear views
the limits of our imagination, the rise and fall
of breaths taken over the ocean, the headland,
green cliffs, ourselves on the fringe of the world

poised between intake and exhalation
resting momentarily before we must
plunge to the rocks below or else escape
back to the cities we came from so recently,
shaking at the near miss of death.


Very Old Water

We are not ready.

The deepest ocean waters
could be ancient, millions
of years in darkness, cold
lifeless troughs at the feet
of mountain chains miles
below the new blue waves.

We are too young.

Standing on a white shore
we only see the smallest surf
less than a sliver of the wet
world the moon pulls aside.

We can’t know that kind of age

until we peer down a layered
canyon and know the bottom
holds no fossils, no diatoms
before the seas spawned life,
we the final species before
the third wave of extinctions.

We can never touch black waters.

We have nothing to offer
no words to speak of awe
and supplication, to praise
this forbear swirled around
drifting continents, holding
the sediments of every
cataclysm— scales, bones
ash, teeth, burnt skin

We don’t understand.

We forget on the surface
about water settling, free
even from currents, black
pressure that crushes steel
or diamonds, empty silence
ancient receptacle of metals,
minerals, every sort of detritus
of dinosaurs and long before
all swallowed, absorbed into
new layers of sediment.

We see mountains.

Sandstone, limestone, slate
formed under water, rising
up into hot sun or the shade
of cool canyons, uplifted
in our path and we are surprised—
we see no water here, only red
desert varnish on the rock faces
reminds us of the sea, tides, stars.

This small puddle at our feet
grew from last night’s showers.

emily straussEmily Strauss has an M.A. in English, but is self-taught in poetry, which she has written since college Over 300 of her poems appear in a wide variety of online venues and in anthologies, in the U.S. and abroad. The natural world is generally her framework; she also considers the stories of people and places around her and personal histories. She is a semi-retired teacher living in California.

One comment

  1. Emily, I enjoyed reading all of your poems. You have quite a range of subject and style in this selection of your work. I also like ekphrastic writing, so your poem, Happy Day at Exit 346 written to the picture was one I especially liked reading.


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